Global emissions of carbon dioxide have gone up over 60% in the last 15 years
Britain generates most of its energy from coal and gas fired power stations. All the power stations import most of the coal they need and only half of the country’s demand for gas can now be supplied from the North Sea. This raises questions about how secure our energy supplies are for the future and how much they will cost.
There are also environmental concerns. The coal-fired Cottam plant in the photograph now produces a small proportion of its electricity from biomass such as woodchip, sunflower husks and willow wood, which give off less CO2 than coal and oil.
The government is committed to increasing the amount of energy we generate from non-fossil fuel sources. But how? Should we invest in renewables like wind, solar and tidal energy more fully, or embrace a new generation of nuclear power plants? The French are clear, nuclear power produces around 80% of France’s energy requirements.
Carbon dioxide (CO2)
Humans boost carbon dioxide levels by burning carbon rich fossils fuels and by deforestation. Trees, as they grow, absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, storing it as carbon in all their living parts. In Britain, the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, kick-started the global rise in atmospheric CO2.
Coal-fired factories belched out the CO2 unseen as a gas. And while many British forests had long been cleared for farming, further wood was cut down to build and heat new homes.
While countries like Britain and the USA still produce a lot, over 90% of the new growth in CO2 emissions comes from increased coal use in China and India, who are going through their own industrial revolutions. China has recently overtaken the USA as the largest total emitter of CO2 although emissions per person are still highest in the USA.
Carbon capture and storage is a new way of reducing carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. It works by extracting the CO2 in the flue pipes before it escapes into the atmosphere; and then it is transported and stored as a liquid, often deep underground in geological sites, such as empty oil and gas fields. As of April 2009, all new large power stations in Britain must be built with the capacity for carbon capture and storage.